So French France

Classified as Intangible Heritage of Humanity: the "French gastronomic meal" is a true French originality

UNESCO has classified "the French gastronomic meal" as an Intangible Heritage of Humanity. It often surprises the French that what has been classified is not what is in the dishes, in other words the French gastronomy, the good dishes that make the reputation of culinary excellence of the country, but the way to eat, and with whom... Reminder with Monsieur de France in this article and we push a little further by reminding you what is a chic dinner "à la Française", the "good manners" at table and the art of receiving well.


Definition of the "French Gastronomic Meal" by UNESCO

Photo de krakenimages sur Unsplash

Let's read the official UNESCO text: "The gastronomic meal is a customary social practice intended to celebrate the most important moments in the lives of individuals and groups, such as births, weddings, anniversaries, successes and reunions. It is a festive meal where the guests practice the art of "eating well" and "drinking well". The gastronomic meal emphasizes the fact of being well together, the pleasure of taste, the harmony between the human being and the productions of nature. Among its important components are: the careful choice of dishes from an ever-growing body of recipes; the purchase of good products, preferably local, whose flavors go well together; the marriage between food and wine; the decoration of the table; and a specific gesture during the tasting (smelling and tasting what is served at the table). The gastronomic meal must follow a well-defined pattern: it begins with an aperitif and ends with a digestive, with at least four courses in between, namely a starter, fish and/or meat with vegetables, cheese and dessert. People who are recognized as gastronomes, who have a thorough knowledge of the tradition and preserve its memory, ensure the living practice of the rites and thus contribute to their oral and/or written transmission, in particular to the younger generations. The gastronomic meal tightens the family and friendship circle and, more generally, strengthens social ties."

Une table française / Image par Agence Rédaction Web de Pixabay

Image by Agence Rédaction Web from Pixabay 

The succession of dishes: a 19th-century invention. 

Basically, even if it amazes the French that we don't necessarily do it elsewhere, but gathering friends around a menu that we concocted or imagined, imagining a match between the dish served and the wine we drink, making the dishes follow one another, that's French. However, in the 19th century, we used to talk about "Service à la Russe" because in France, during the Middle Ages, the Renaissance, the 18th century and the beginning of the 19th century, all the dishes were served at the same time and each one was served what he wanted. It was the great chef Augustin Carême who, in the 19th century, introduced the idea of a starter, a main course, a cheese course and desserts. 


And thus a menu 

At the same time, the French meal was enriched by the many dishes or foods that came to Paris... By train. More products, more freshness, allowed to increase the culinary possibilities. The end of the 19th century and the "belle époque" saw the arrival of meals of an amazing length and complexity. It is not unusual to see menus with :

an aperitif (a 19th century invention), an appetizer, an "hors d'oeuvre", a soup, a "main course", a starter, a "rôt", a "trou normand" - a glass of strong alcohol, Calva in Normandy, supposed to "wash down" everything you've eaten - a platter of cheeses (7 minimum), a entremet, a dessert and then fruit, and then "coffee and liqueur" the liqueur used to "rinse" the coffee cup. Pantagruelic, no? Note that people were not served "on a plate", the dish was passed each time (twice, in fact), and we only took what we wanted. Some people would pass their turn and wait for the next dish. 

The idea of displaying the menu, in other words what was going to be tasted (dishes and also wines with the year and place of origin) was taken up by the restaurants that were born in the 19th century. The menu displayed for family meals is not very common nowadays, but it is still used for special occasions (weddings...) and it is often kept as a souvenir of the event. 

A typical menu 


From now on, an ordered meal and rites to live together. 

These meals, which were never ending, have ended up being simplified. It must be said that we eat lighter and drink less... the French meal has become much simpler over the last forty years and is now a well-trodden "schedule" that we find every time: 

An aperitif, a starter, a main course (fish or meat), a cheese platter, a dessert, sometimes a digestive and a coffee.

The aperitif is essential to a French meal since it is often the moment when people who do not know each other get to know each other. It is also the moment when you "get into it". Cheese is absolutely essential in the country of "1000 cheeses", it is even the minimum. It is often the occasion to present local or original cheeses.

Le choix des vins : très stratégique ! / Image par Kerstin Riemer de Pixabay 

The choice of wines: very strategic / Image by Kerstin Riemer from Pixabay 

What is also very French is to talk about cooking or gastronomy when you are already eating. This meal, which always gathers several people, is often a real moment of discussion, and even of social link since we discuss many things, we listen to each other, we confide in each other sometimes, we often try to have a sense of humor and this often allows to maintain affection, and even sometimes to defuse conflicts. 

We can improve this gastronomic French meal by making a "French meal", in other words in the rules of the art of receiving, accompanied by the customs of each: the person who receives and the people who are invited. We speak then of a meal "à la Française" and we give you all the codes and all our tricks here.

You are invited to a French meal? our advice: 

First of all, arrive on time but never early. 15 minutes late is the maximum delay if you want to be polite. It is important to talk with everyone. "Keeping the conversation going allows everyone to have a good time. Be careful not to talk too much, or to brag. We avoid talking about money and politics. 

It is not mandatory, but it is often customary, to bring something when invited. Traditionally it was flowers, but now it is often chocolate or a bottle of wine (mainly), or something typical from home when you come from abroad. The French are curious and very open to other cultures. 

Are you going to entertain at home? Why don't you check out our recipe ideas! 

Jérôme Prod'homme

Jérôme Prod'homme

Jérôme is "monsieur de France" the author of this site. 

Jérôme Prod'homme

Jérôme Prod'homme

Jérôme is "monsieur de France" the author of this site.